I’ve been thinking lately about social networks and the process through which their users find value. It started, of course, with Twitter and how much it’s changed in the fifteen months or so since I signed up. While I still get a lot out of it, there’s no question it’s becoming noisier and less valuable by the day. It occurred to me that the same thing often happens, consistently, in any developing social situation (network, scene, community, etc).
I started formulating ideas about why. I looked to pinpoint the moments where a social network experiences an influx, and consider what that influx does to the experience of those who were there before it happened. Here’s what I came up with (click it to view full-size):
Early Adopters get there in time to experience the frontier. They’re the first to establish a presence and they help work out the kinks.
Knowledge Seekers come in while things are on the rise because they’re excited about the possibilities. They aren’t quite as adventurous as the early adopters, but they’re more stable.
Things peak with the arrival of the First Popular Wave. Everything is ironed out, the community is established, and regular folks are moving in. Times are good.
This can go on for awhile, but there’s a crash coming when the Marketers show up. They like to think of themselves as plugged-in, but the truth is they simply see something mature enough to exploit. They’re not exactly spammers, but they’re not good for much.
They help attract the Second Popular Wave, comprised of people who don’t really know what’s going on but figure that they have to be there because all their friends are talking about it. Or they saw it on the cover of Newsweek. Or for no reason at all.
Finally, Spam settles in and the process is complete.
What happens after this stage is entirely up to individual users. I’m not suggesting that a network (or scene, or community) has to fold up and become irrelevant just because it’s reached this stage. There’s work yet to do, if that’s what users want. And, indeed, in Twitter’s case they have built-in protections against the noise becoming overwhelming – users create their own experience to a large extent.
That said, it seems to me that most networks tend to fail at this stage because the noise becomes too much to bear and there is almost certainly a newer and/or better alternative just around the corner. This may or may not be the fate of Twitter, but remember Friendster? Makeoutclub? When was the last time you logged into your MySpace account for anything other than listening to music? What about that bar you used to love but haven’t been to in over a year?
I’m sure there are serious social scientists who covered this ground ages ago, but I wanted to do something that came more from the perspective of the average user. With that in mind, I’m curious: what do you think? Does this graph roughly approximate your experience, or am I missing something? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.